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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Ex-PM 'might move to Cambodia'

By WICHIT CHAITRONG
THE NATION ON SUNDAY



Fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra is likely to use Cambodia as the new base for his political operations due to its proximity to Thailand, political scientist Chaianan Samudvanija said yesterday.

He said Cambodia would be more favourable for Thaksin as his current base - Dubai in the United Arab Emirates - is "too far away" from Thailand.

However, Chaianan, a former Constitution Court judge, said he thought Thaksin's decision to move his base to Cambodia "would not be a wise one". He explained that Thais generally are not familiar with having their politicians relying on assistance from other countries.

He was speaking at a seminar organised by the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida) in Pattaya.

Chaianan said that with Thaksin moving to Cambodia, political activities would become "more intense" as politicians close to him would find it easier to meet him in the neighbouring country.

He also had no worries about the increasing rivalry between the red shirts and the yellow shirts, saying the confrontation was part of political development to a higher level of democracy. He said Thais have become more politically active and their participation in political activities has become uninterrupted, unlike that during the brief periods around the student-led uprising of October 1973.

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Put country above self, Abhisit tells Thaksin

By The Nation on Sunday



Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday hit back at ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, calling on him to review his stance over becoming an economic adviser to Cambodia.

The premier said Thaksin should put the country's interests ahead of his own and not hurt its relations with neighbouring countries.

Responding to Thaksin's statement accusing the government of using internal politics to pressure Cambodia, Abhisit said the government did not start the problem. He said it started when Cambodia announced its decision to appoint Thaksin an adviser, which adversely affects Thailand's justice system.

"I have met Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen many times and we had good understanding, till Pheu Thai Party chairman General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh went to Cambodia and Thaksin was appointed as economic adviser to Cambdodia. The problem then started. Thaksin is a Thai, he should be sensitive and not blame the government,'' he said.

Abhisit said the government's downgrading of the country's relations with Cambodia was not too severe and would not lead to military clashes or affect bilateral trade.

He said Thaksin must review his stance in accepting to become an economic adviser to Cambodia because he knew all information as he had headed the government when Thailand signed the Memorandum of Understanding over the maritime overlapping zone.

"Which government will let the country lose its leverage and allow its justice system to be questioned? If we had not done that, how could have we have protected the country's interests?'' he said.

He said Thaksin's decision to side with Cambodia raised more suspicions against him over allegations that he had a vested interest over the signing of the MoU with Cambodia to seek interests in the overlapping zone.

"This make people wonder why Thaksin seems to be concerned about the interest of other countries more than his own country. They wonder whether he has a self-interest in that,'' Abhisit said.

The premier denied that the government was provoking nationalist sentiment, saying Thaksin was the one who had a problem not having nationalism.

Meanwhile, Pheu Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit yesterday said the party was concerned about recent opinion poll results, which showed that a majority of respondents supported the government's retaliation against Cambodia. He said both the Dusit Poll and Abac Poll were not impartial and the party would conduct a survey to find out the public response to the move.

He said Thaksin would on Tuesday clarify his stance about accepting the advisory position and the MoU agreement with Cambodia.

Pheu Thai MP Surapong Towichakkul challenged that if the Democrat Party believed the poll results that its popularity had surged it should dissolve Parliament and call a general election.

Also yesterday Borwornsak Uwanno, secretary-general of the King Prajadhipok's Institute, said the government had reacted correctly by recalling Thailand's ambassador to Cambodia. He warned, however, that the conflict between Thailand and Cambodia could lead to the dissolution of Asean.

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INTERVIEW - Thai PM says no plan yet to seal border with Cambodia

By Yoko Nishikawa


TOKYO (Reuters) - Thailand said on Saturday it has no plan yet to seal its border with Cambodia despite a diplomatic row, but will seek to extradite fugitive former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, if he goes to Cambodia to become an adviser.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also told Reuters in an interview that Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been recovering from his illness and he expected the 81-year-old king to be discharged from hospital soon.

Thailand and Cambodia deepened a diplomatic row by recalling their ambassadors from each others' countries on Thursday after Phnom Penh made Thaksin an economic adviser.

The tit-for-tat spat threatens to worsen political tensions in Thailand by potentially giving Thaksin a base across the border from where he can direct his supporters and causing a diplomatic embarrassment for Abhisit.

"We did not talk," Abhisit said when asked if he had a chance to speak with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen while he was in Tokyo for a summit of five Mekong region nations and Japan, which brought him and the Cambodian leader together at an awkward time.

"We would seek (his) extradition," Abhisit added when asked about his government's response if Thaksin goes to Cambodia.

"We do not accept the view that this is a political case. Rather, it is a straight-forward application of our laws."

But asked if Bangkok would seal its border with Cambodia, Abhisit said, "At the moment, we don't have plans to do that."

Thaksin, the twice-elected billionaire who was deposed in a coup three years ago and has been living in exile to avoid corruption charges, still commands widespread support in rural areas and remains a force in Thai politics.

Abhisit stressed the dispute did not affect the two-day Japan-Mekong summit meeting that ended earlier in the day.

"We are very conscious that this is an issue that we should solve bilaterally and that we should not let this get in the way of multilateral cooperation. So we won't allow to affect ASEAN. We won't allow to affect a forum like this," he said.

KING'S HEALTH

Abhisit said Thailand's king, who has been in hospital since Sept. 19, was recovering and that he was performing his duties from the hospital.

The 81-year-old king, the world's longest serving monarch, is regarded as semi-divine by many of the country's 67 million people.

"He has recovered and is now staying to do physiotherapy. And soon we expect His Majesty to be discharged from the hospital," Abhisit said, adding that the timing of the king's release from hospital would be up to doctors.

The king's health is a sensitive topic in financial markets because he is seen as the sole unifying figure in a politically polarised country with a long history of coups and upheaval.

Abhisit said the king was still performing his duties in hospital. "We have laws that have been signed and have come to affect, for instance, the budget law."


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POLITICS: Thai-Cambodia Diplomatic Row Bares Decades-Long Rift

By Marwaan Macan-Markar


BANGKOK, Thailand’s swift and strong response to Cambodia’s decision to appoint ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as an economic adviser exposed an emotional faultline rooted in decades of mutual suspicion and hatred.

By the weekend, Bangkok had delivered its second blow to an already tense relationship between the two South-east Asian kingdoms. The Thai government announced it was revoking a memorandum of understanding between the two countries on developing an overlapping maritime area rich in oil and gas reserves in the Gulf of Thailand.

It was inevitable, said the Thai government, after Phnom Penh’s appointment of Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and lives in exile to evade a two-year jail term after being found guilty in a conflict of interest case. Thaksin’s new role in Cambodia "will directly affect negotiations" between the two countries, states the Thai foreign ministry, since Thaksin "was directly involved in the negotiation process" in 2001 when he was Thailand’s prime minister.

The tone for such a tough response by the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was set on Thursday. Bangkok withdrew its ambassador in Cambodia in protest against the Thaksin appointment. Phnom Penh reciprocated by Friday.

"We view the appointment of Thaksin as an interference in Thailand’s domestic affairs and disregard for Thailand’s judicial system," Thani Thongphakdi, Thai foreign ministry’s deputy spokesman, told IPS. "Our reaction has been commensurate with the action of Cambodia."

Thaksin’s appointment as the new economic advisor to Cambodia was announced Wednesday night on the country’s state television station. He was appointed by a royal decree as a "personal advisor to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and the adviser to the Cambodian government in charge of economy," a statement from Phnom Penh revealed.

Hun Sen’s choice of the fugitive former Thai premier, who became a billionaire telecommunications tycoon before he was elected as Thailand’s leader in 2001, is in keeping with a practice known in Cambodia for years— of the government and the royal family appointing foreign nationals to help them as advisors.

Prior to Thaksin, Hun Sen’s economic advisor was South Korea’s current president, Lee Myung-bak. The latter served in that advisory role from 2000 till 2007, resigning ahead of the 2008 presidential poll.

"Cambodia views the appointment of Mr. Thaksin as an internal affair. We have had economic advisors to our prime minister before, like the current president of South Korea from 2000 till 2007," said Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Cambodian foreign ministry. "The Thai government is trying to mix things up."

"It is up to the Thai side to clarify the status of our relationship," Koy added during a telephone interview from Phnom Penh. "Cambodia wants to have good relations with Thailand."

Hun Sen’s fiery rhetoric towards Thailand betrays such sentiments. He is on record saying that Phnom Penh would not extradite Thaksin if he moved to Cambodia. That followed a statement that Cambodia would offer Thaksin a new home.

The recent war of words between Cambodia and Thailand threatened to overshadow a summit of South-east Asian leaders held last month in a Thai resort town south of Bangkok. "Don’t allow anybody to use you as a pawn," Abhisit told the media in a comment targeted at Hun Sen.

The current tension between the two countries has grown since July last year over a 10th century Hindu temple, Preah Vihear, perched on top of a steep cliff on the Thai-Cambodian border.

The World Heritage Committee ruled that month that the Preah Vihear would be recognised as a world heritage site. It also recognised a 1962 ruling by the International Court of Justice that the temple was within Cambodian territory.

Thai nationalists responded with rage, prompting a troop build-up by both sides. In April this year the soldiers from both countries exchanged gunfire, leaving three people dead.

The relationship between the richer Thailand and the poorer Cambodia hit a low point in 2003, when the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh was burned down by rioters angered by a remark made by a Thai actress that allegedly questioned Cambodia’s ownership of another landmark temple. Thaksin was the Thai premier at the time.

"What we are witnessing is the love-hate relationship between the Thai and Cambodians. The problem has deep roots, going back to the Second World War period," said Charnvit Kasetsri, a historian at Bangkok’s Thammasat University. "Anti-French feelings that Thais had towards the French when they were colonial rulers of Cambodia were transferred to anti-Cambodian feelings after Cambodia got independence."

Thailand’s elites also fed this feeling in later years, Charnvit explained in an interview. "Bangkok’s educated people look down upon Cambodians as less educated and people that cannot be trusted and are unreliable."

The United States government’s war in Indo-China saw the two countries on either side of the battle lines. The Thai government, under a military dictatorship and a strong U.S. ally, was peeved at Cambodia’s neutral stance over the war during the 1960s.

Through the 1980s, after Cambodians were freed from the genocidal Khmer Rouge by the invading Vietnamese military, Thailand opened its eastern borders for the Khmer Rouge to survive. Bangkok, in fact, was the gateway for Khmer Rouge leaders to interact with the international community. Cambodia’s present attitude towards Thailand, on the other hand, reflects a trend that has evolved over the past 20 years.

"For years Thailand was an important investor in Cambodia and was always welcome, but now its predominant role has been replaced by China, Japan and others," said Punagthong Pawakapan, assistant professor in international relations at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. "They do not have to depend on Thailand unlike before."

China, with over 3,000 companies and with investments valued at over 1.5 billion U.S. dollars, is the largest investor in Cambodia. South Korea follows, with 1.2 billion dollars in investment. And Japan, with over 1.2 billion U.S. dollars, has been Cambodia’s top donor since 1992.

Thailand’s investments are valued at 226 million U.S. dollars. Its major investments are in hotels and the agro-industry. China has poured money into large infrastructure projects while South Korea has invested in the information technology sector.

"Thailand’s relationship with its other neighbours like Burma, Laos and Malaysia do not compare with the relationship with Cambodia," Punagthong told IPS. "Disagreements do not result in the same kind of tension and trouble."

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